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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott"

Robin Johannsen, sopranoa; Alexander Seidel, altob; Holger Marks, tenorc; Wolf Matthias Friedrich, bassd
Concerto Melante
Dir: Raimar Orlovsky

rec: May 19 - 20 & Sept 29 - Oct 1, 2016, Berlin-Dahlem, Jesus-Christus-Kirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88985347982 (© 2017) (70'33")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Georg Philipp TELEMANN: Du bleibest dennoch unser Gott (TWV 13,9b)ad; Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (TWV 8,7), motet a 4abcd; Quartet for transverse flute, oboe d'amore, violin and bc in G (TWV 43,G13); Sey tausendmal willkommen (TWV 13,9a)a; Sonata for transverse flute, violin and bc in e minor (TWV 42,e7); Sonata for 2 violins and bc in e minor (TWV 42,e8); Johann WALTER (1496-1570): Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott a 4abcde

Verena Fischer, transverse flute; Saskia Fikentscher, oboe d'amore; Thomas Leyendecker, trombonee; Rainer Orlovsky, Philipp Bohnen, violin; Bernadett Kis, viola; Kristin von der Goltz, cello; Léon Berben, harpsichord, organ

In 1530 the Augsburg Confession, written in Latin and in German, was presented at the Diet of Augsburg. It was the primary confession which formulated the Lutheran doctrines. In 1730 this event was commemorated across Germany. In his capacity as director musices in Hamburg Georg Philipp Telemann was responsible for the music in the five main churches. As part of the celebrations he composed two cantatas for performances on Sunday 25 June. Later that year these were printed and Telemann dedicated the edition to the city council with these words: "The delightful festival, which has made this year of 1730 memorable and in which we have celebrated the 200th anniversary of a bold pledge of commitment to pure Protestant doctrines, gives cause for me to bear witness, in my own way, to the glory of God for the benefit of our descendants."

There need to be no doubt about the sincerity of his personal commitment. But Telemann was also a clever businessman. Not long after the performances on 25 June which took place in the Katharinenkirche, he performed them again in public concerts for which he asked an entrance fee. The publication was another way to make money. This edtion only included the two cantatas recorded here. Telemann had composed two further pairs of cantatas, apparently for a larger scoring, but these were not printed and have been lost.

The printed cantatas are for soprano, bass, strings and bc. Both pieces are written in the galant idiom, of which Telemann was one of the main representatives. At the same time the arias are of a quite operatic nature, which remind us of the composer's credentials as one of Germany's most prominent opera composers. The cantatas belong together; the first was performed before, the second after the sermon. The text is from the pen of Johann Georg Hamann, a German philosopher, who was the teacher of Johann Gottfried Herder and, interestingly, rather critical of the Enlightenment.

Sey tausendmal willkommen is for soprano, strings and bc. It opens with a sinfonia in two sections, slow - fast. This is followed by a sequence of recitatives and arias. The first episode is noteworthy for its structure: it opens with an aria in two sections (AB), followed by a recitative; next are a repeat of the A section of the aria, a recitative which turns into an arioso, and another recitative; the episode closes with another repeat of the A section of the aria. Like the first the second aria includes much coloratura, especially on the word "entflammt" (inflame). In the third aria the word "jauchzet" (rejoice) is vividly illustrated, whereas in the B section the words "Mauren" (walls) and "dauren" (last [verb]) are depicted by long-held notes. This cantata is a song of praise for "the grace [which] befell the church two centuries ago". The closing aria calls the inhabitants of Hamburg "blessed citizens of Zion, God's noble city".

In Du bleibest dennoch unser Gott the soprano is joined by a bass in the opening and closing arias; he also sings the two recitatives, whereas the central aria is for soprano. The opening duet says that "you remain our God, Lord of hosts". The second aria refers to Psalm 122: "Wish Jerusalem happiness and praise the almighty name of the Highest". God is then asked to "stand (...) faithfully by your Zion". The closing duet is a kind of slumber aria: "Keeper of Israel, do not slumber nor sleep".

The motet Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott for four voices and bc is from the same year. It ends with a harmonisation of the chorale. It is the only piece on this disc which has been recorded before. It is not that surprising that the two cantatas are first recordings, but even in the realm of chamber music - the part of Telemann's output which is best represented on disc - there are still pieces which were not available in recordings, as is the case with the three chamber music works on this disc. The booklet doesn't mention any dates of composition of these pieces. The two trio sonatas - for two violins and for transverse flute and violin respectively - seem pretty early works, considering the amount of counterpoint. The Sonata in e minor (TWV 42,e8) opens with an expressive affettuoso which is followed by a vivace in the form of a fugue. The second movement from the Sonata in e minor (TWV 42,e7) includes influences of Polish folk music, which Telemann was so fond of. With its combination of instruments - transverse flute, oboe d'amore and violin - the Quartet in G is a typical example of a Telemann piece. The three instruments sometimes play in parallel motion, but often Telemann also juxtaposes one instrument to a pair, in different combinations.

These pieces receive outstanding performances. The instrumental parts in the cantatas are also nicely played. I am not entirely happy with the vocal part of this disc, though. Overall the performances of the two cantatas are pretty good. The recitatives which are often the weak part in baroque cantatas, are performed here with the right amount of rhythmic freedom by both singers. Wolf-Matthias Friedrich is excellent, as usual. Robin Johannsen deals admirably with the coloratura; some of her arias are certainly quite demanding. Her ornamentation in the dacapos is mostly pretty good; only occasionally she goes perhaps a little too far. However, her incessant vibrato is a disappointment, even though it is not very wide. I don't really understand why she feels that she needs to use it, because in the duets in Du bleibest dennoch unser Gott, she shows more restraint in this department. In the closing duets, and especially on the longer notes which soprano and bass sing together, she hardly uses any vibrato at all. The same is the case in the motet; here it is Holger Marks who spoils the party. I am not very happy with it anyway, especially because the miking is too close, and as a result the individual voices dominate at the cost of the ensemble.

Because of the repertoire this disc deserves a wholehearted welcome. It is certainly not bad, and I would recommend any lover of Telemann's music to investigate it. It is just disappointing that the vocal part of this recording cannot fully satisfy.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Wolf Matthias Friedrich
Robin Johannsen
Holger Marks
Alexander Seidel
Concerto Melante

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